THE FIG TREE >> The Church's Knowledge of what is Kind and Good in outward Life

f1igtr1ee1_500_339 The fig is a modest tree, low and spreading, with irregular, ungraceful branches. The leaves are large, dark-green, deeply lobed. A marked peculiarity of the tree is that it   bears fruit without visible flowers. A little flower-stalk appears, but instead of blossoming at its tip, it is hollow and bears the little flowers on the inside of its tube. The stem swells, grows soft, and becomes a fig. The fig-tree not only bears fruit without visible blossoms, but begins to form its first crop of figs before the leaves appear. The fruit is sweet and nourishing, very full of seeds, and possessing soothing, healing powers. (2 Kings xx. 7; Isa. xxxviii. 21; AE 403)

The fig-tree evidently corresponds to a knowledge of good, sweet works of kindness. But contrasted with the olive, the fig is the less noble tree. It is not so large, nor evergreen like the olive, nor so long-lived, nor are its fruits useful in so many ways. The olive represents the knowledge of the Lord's goodness and of how to bring forth His love in good works. The fig represents a knowledge of natural kindness, which not rising to the noble character of the olive, still obediently bears abundant fruits of sweet benevolence. (AC 4231; AE 403)

What is the meaning of the fact that the figs are borne without visible blossoms, and even before the leaves? Leaves are the intelligent thought preparatory to the use which is represented by the fruit. Flowers are the special thoughts connected with each good work, including the happiest of all thoughts, that we are helping to accomplish some purpose of the Lord's love and wisdom. The natural kind works which the figs represent are done without these leaves and flowers, with little forethought or discretion; they are impulsive and unintelligent; moreover they seem to be one's own and are without the happy sense of serving the Lord.

Once more, contrasting the fig with the olive, why has the olive one large seed and the fig many little seeds? The many seeds suggest the contagiousness of natural kindness; one kind work calls forth a thousand more. But does not the single seed point to the single principle that God is good, from which the spiritual olive grows, while the many seeds of the fig suggest the thousand forms in which the duty of natural kindness appeals to us in the varied relations of life?

Before we turn to see how the fig is used in the parables of the Word, let us notice a relation between the olive, the vine, and the fig. The olive is knowledge of good works inspired by a sense of the Lord's goodness; the vine is the faculty of perceiving the Lord's wisdom and of expressing it in life; the fig is a knowledge of good works done in natural kindness and obedience. The three are related like the three planes of heavenly life: celestial, spiritual, and natural. (HH 31; TCR 609; AC 9277; AE 403, 638) Compare the relation of sheep, goats, and cattle, Chapter 13)

Canaan was called "a land of wheat and barley, and vines, and fig-trees, and pomegranates; a land of oil olive and honey." (Deut. viii. 8) The knowledge of external goodness and kindness, the spiritual intelligence, and the knowledge of the Lord's goodness, which belong to the heavenly life, are represented by the three trees which we have studied. (AE 619, 403) "Although the fig-tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labor of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat." (Habakkuk iii. 17) It pictures a time when spiritual life languishes; when there is a lack of good life in each of its three forms. "Yet will I rejoice in the Lord." (AE 403; AC 9277)

Read Jotham's parable: "The trees went forth on a time to anoint a king over them; and they said unto the olive-tree, Reign thou over us. But the olive-tree said, Should I leave my fatness, wherewith by me they honor God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees? And the trees said to the fig-tree, Come thou, and reign over us. But the fig tree said unto them, Should I forsake my sweetness, and my good fruit, and go to be promoted over the trees? Then said the trees unto the vine, Come thou, and reign over us. And the vine said unto them, Should I leave my wine, which cheereth God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees? Then said all the trees unto the bramble, Come thou, and reign over us. And the bramble said unto the trees, If in truth ye anoint me king over you, then come and put your trust in my shadow: and if not, let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon." (Judges ix. 8-15) The parable was spoken to the men of Shechem, who had allowed no heavenly spirit, but a selfish, cruel one, to rule them. It shows also how it is the nature of every heavenly principle to serve, each in its own way, with no wish to rule over others. The bramble represents the intelligence busy not with good uses, and thoughts preparing for them, but with selfish scheming, with hard, cruel, cutting thoughts of others. "The care of this world and the deceitfulness of riches " (Matt. xiii. 22) , are the thorns which choke the growth of plants of usefulness. And these are glad to rule over others. (AE 638.; AC 9277)

"Beware of false prophets . . . ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?" (Matt. vii. 15, 16) We remember that "prophets," in an impersonal sense, are truths, or what claim to be truths; and we are to judge them by the life to which they lead. Can selfish scheming lead to works of wise, heavenly charity? or to works full of sweet natural kindness? Such works can never grow from false and selfish principles with their spiteful, cruel thoughts. (AE 403; AC 5117) Of the peaceful days of Solomon it is said that "Judah and Israel dwelt safely, every man under his vine and under his fig-tree." (I Kings iv. 25) And again, "In the last days . . . they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig-tree; and none shall make them afraid." (Micah iv. 1, 4) These are beautiful pictures of peace and domestic happiness. They tell also of a state of spiritual peace, when temptations shall cease, when the mind shall be busy with plans for works of spiritual wisdom and of natural kindness, and shall find in these protection against the intrusion of evil feelings and false thoughts. (AE 403; AC 5113) The Lord said of Nathanael, who was to become one of the apostles, "Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile! Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig-tree, I saw thee." (John i. 47, 48) We know that the apostles represented all classes of men who can become followers of the Lord, or all the elements of His church in any heart. What does it tell of Nathanael's character; and of the element in us all which he represents, that he was "under the fig-tree " when called to follow the Lord? (AE 866)

"He spake also this parable: A certain man had a fig-tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none. Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig-tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground? And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it and dung it: and if it bear fruit, well; and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down." (Luke xiii. 6-q) Already we have found the vineyard used as representative of the Lord's church, especially of its spiritual intelligence. Here we read of "a fig-tree planted in the vineyard." It means the church's knowledge of what is kind and good in outward life, which the Lord desires should bear fruits of natural kindness. How often does the Lord come seeking this fruit, but finds none! How little such fruit there was in the Jewish Church at His coming! The pleading of the dresser of the vineyard to give the tree another chance, pictures the Lord's own solicitude that His church, and every one, be given every possible opportunity to bear the fruit of good, kind works. (AE 403. Compare Abraham's entreaty for Sodom. Gen. xviii. 23-33)

As the Lord with His disciples passed over the Mount of Olives from Bethany to Jerusalem, "he was hungry: and seeing a fig-tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet. And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever. And his disciples heard it. . . . And in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig-tree dried up from the roots." (Mark xi. 12-14, 20) Once more the fig-tree is a type of the church or of each man's heart. What is meant by its bearing leaves but no fruit? It means that there is abundant knowledge of what is good and kind; that we perhaps go so far as to think about doing kind works, but do not do them. How barren was the Jewish Church of good, kind works, in spite of the sacred law of which they were proud! How little of such fruit the Lord finds today, in spite of still fuller teaching of good life! Take warning! Knowledge which is held in this idle way, sooner or later - in the other world if not in this - will wither away and the ability to enjoy doing works of kindness will be gone forever. That "the time of figs was not yet," suggests that a time is at hand when good, kind works will abound. (AE 386, 403, 109; AC 885)

"And he spake to them a parable; Behold the fig-tree and all the trees; when they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand. So likewise ye, when ye see these things, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand." (Luke xxi. 29-31) The budding of the trees, especially of the fig-tree, is promised as a sign of the Lord's second coming. Is not the promise fulfilled today in the wonderful growth of useful knowledge of every kind? and especially in the great development of natural charity and benevolence? (AE 403)


When the end of an old church and the beginning of a new church is at hand, then is the Last Judgment. This is the time that is meant in the Word by the "Last Judgement" (n. 2117-2133, 3353, 4057), and also by the "coming of the Son of man."  It is this very Coming that is now the subject before us, as referred to in the question addressed to the Lord by the disciples:--   

Tell us when shall these things he, especially what is the sign of Thy coming, and of the consummation of the age (Matt. 24:3)?   

It remains therefore to unfold the things predicted by the Lord concerning this very time of His Coming and of the Consummation of the age which is the Last Judgment; but in the preface to this chapter only those contained in Matthew:--   

Now learn a parable from the fig-tree.  When her branch is now become tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that the summer is nigh.  So also ye, when ye see all these things, know that it is nigh, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away till all these things be accomplished. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away (Matthew 24:32-35).   

The internal sense of these words is as follows.   

Now learn a parable from the fig-tree. When her branch is now become tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that the summer is nigh; signifies the first of a new church; the "fig-tree" is the good of the natural; her "branch" is the affection of this; and the 'leaves" are truths.  The "parable from which they should learn" is that these things are signified.  He who is not acquainted with the internal sense of the Word, cannot possibly know what is involved in the comparison of the Lord's coming to a fig-tree and its branch and leaves; but as all the comparisons in the Word are also significative (n. 3579), it may be known from this signification what is meant.  A "fig-tree" wherever mentioned in the Word signifies in the internal sense the good of the natural (n. 217); that her "branch" is the affection of this, is because affection springs forth from good as a branch from its trunk; and that "leaves" are truths may be seen above (n. 885).  From all this it is now evident what the parable involves, namely, that when a new church is being created by the Lord, there then appears first of all the good of the natural, that is, good in the external form together with its affection and truths. By the good of the natural is not meant the good into which man is born, or which he derives from his parents, but a good which is spiritual in respect to its origin.  Into this no one is born, but is led into it by the Lord through the knowledges of good and truth. Therefore until a man is in this good (that is, in spiritual good), he is not a man of the church, however much from a good that is born with him he may appear to be so.   

[2] So also ye, when ye see all these things, know that it is nigh, even at the doors signifies that when those things appear which are signified in the internal sense by the words spoken in (Matt. 24:29-31), and by these concerning the fig-tree, then it is the consummation of the church, that is, the Last Judgment, and the Coming of the Lord; consequently that the old church is then being rejected, and a new one is being set up. It is said, "at the doors," because the good of the natural and its truths are the first things which are insinuated into a man when he is being regenerated and is becoming the church. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all these things be accomplished; signifies that the Jewish nation shall not be extirpated like other nations, for the reason shown above (n. 3479).   

[3] Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away; signifies that the internals and the externals of the former church would perish, but that the Word of the Lord would abide. "Heaven" is the internal of the church, and "earth" its external, (n. 82, 1411, 1733, 1850, 2117, 2118, 3355). By the Lord"s "words" are plainly meant not only these now spoken respecting His coming and the consummation of the age, but also all that are in the Word. These words were said immediately after what was said about the Jewish nation, because that nation was preserved for the sake of the Word, as may be seen from the number already cited (n. 3479). From all this it is now evident that the beginnings of a New Church are here foretold. [AC 4231]

That a "leaf" signifies truth, is evident from many passages in the Word where man is compared to a tree, or is called a tree, and where "fruits" signify the good of charity, and a "leaf" the truth therefrom (which indeed they are like); as in Ezekiel:--

And by the river upon the bank thereof, on this side and on that side, there cometh up every tree for food, whose leaf doth not fall, neither is the fruit consumed, it is reborn every month, because the waters thereof issue out of the sanctuary; and the fruit thereof shall be for food, and the leaf thereof for medicine (Ezekiel 47:12; Rev. 22:2).

Here "tree" denotes the man of the church in whom is the kingdom of the Lord; its "fruit," the good of love and of charity; its "leaf," the truths therefrom, which serve for the instruction of the human race and for their regeneration, for which reason the leaf is said to be for "medicine." Again:--

Shall He not pull up the roots thereof, and cut off the fruit thereof that it wither" it shall wither in all the plucked off (leaves) of its shoot (Ezekiel 17:9).

This is said of the vine, that is, the church, in a state of vastation, whose good, which is the "fruit," and whose truth, which is the "plucked off (leaf) of the shoot," thus withers.

[2] In Jeremiah:--

Blessed is the man that trusteth in Jehovah; he shall be like a tree planted by the waters; his leaf shall be green; and he shall not be anxious in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit (Jeremiah 17:7, 8);

where the "green leaf" denotes the truth of faith, thus the very faith which is from charity. So in (Ps. 1:3); and again in Jeremiah:--

There shall be no grapes on the vine, nor figs on the fig-tree, and the leaf is fallen (Jeremiah 8:13);

"grapes on the vine," denote spiritual good; "figs on the fig-tree," natural good; "leaf," truth, which in this case is "fallen." Likewise in (Isaiah 34:4). The same is meant by the fig-tree which Jesus saw and found nothing thereon but leaves, and which therefore withered away (Matt. 21:19, 20; Mark 11:13, 14, 20). Specifically, by this fig-tree there was meant the Jewish Church, in which there was no longer anything of natural good; and the religious teaching or truth that was preserved in it, are the "leaves;" for a vastated church is such that it knows truth, but is not willing to understand it. Similar are those who say that they know truth or the things of faith, yet have nothing of the good of charity: they are only fig-leaves, and they wither away. [AC 885]

Author: EMANUEL SWEDENBORG (1688-1772)

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